Thursday, October 18, 2007

today : When the hammer falls

Little do they know but in a few years they will probably be dead

Like many men of my age, I am acutely aware of the fact that bits of me are wearing out. It can lead to accusations of hypochondria, which I counter by waving my disabled credentials at people. In fact, further proof comes from the fact that the NHS would not spend the money on fixing me were there nothing wrong: ergo I can't be a middle aged hypochondriac but actually ill. So I am about to face a pretty major operation to fix my ankle and allow me to walk again without excruciating pain. Naturally, I am worried. There is a significant chance the operation may fail, leading me to never walking again. And that is before I start to think about the fact that operations can go hideously wrong and kill people, as well as MRSA and the like.

But the main worry I am having is being incapacitated for several months. I will be more or less unable to move. This means that despite my better instincts I will probably give in to the temptations of boredom and switch on the TV during the day. I am not looking forward to it, because daytime TV is definitely the worst invention of modern times.

I don't remember the beginning of daytime TV in the modern sense. The earliest I recall is Afternoon Plus, which I am pretty sure featured Judith Chalmers before she turned orange (she was in black and white in those days, so I can't be sure). This must have been from when I was a small child in the early to mid seventies. Afternoon Plus featured the usual housewifey interest items such as yoga, cookery, how to sew curtains and becoming emotionally stable in a fraught, loveless and deeply unsatisfying marriage with only small doses of Valium. Later, there was Crown Court. Still one of the best shows ever on TV. It was cheaply made on one set and, in playing out single court cases, had a small cast. I remember being utterly gripped by it all. In fact I can't fathom why it hasn't been revived. Not only are court cases essentially gripping, but a show like this would fulfil a public service remit - seeing as, in this country we know more about the US legal system than our own.

Fast forward to the present day. Afternoon Plus kind of still exists in the shape of This Morning, which features a range of housewifey interest items from yoga all the way to cookery. But elsewhere the schedules have been consumed by a bunch of self replicating clone shows that are all different spins on buying, selling and cookery. In the case of buying and selling you have two choices : antiques or houses. One glance at the morning's TV schedules reveals :

Grand Designs,
Trade Secrets, How Clean Is Your House?, Property Ladder, Location, Location, Relocation, Relocation, Selling Houses, A Place In The Sun, DIY SOS, Homes Under The Hammer, Escape to The Country, To Buy or Not to Buy, Cash in the Attic, Bargain Hunt, Sun, Sea and Bargain Spotting Car Booty, Flog It

Oftentimes these shows are on consecutively. So that the daytime becomes an infinite vortex of valuations, makeovers and 'character' auctioneers. The BBC ones like Flog it or Cash in The Attic also endlessly drag out the action, so there is a valuation, a reminder of the valuation, another reminder of the valuation when the thing gets to auction, a couple more reminders of the valuation during the auction, a declaration of the sold price (with a valuation reminder on screen just to be sure), a reminder of how much the item went for, a pointless guessing interlude where the presenter wonders how much the running total is so far, followed by a voiceover reminding us how much we were after and how much short or long the prices are so far, followed by, at the end of the auction, another guess at the possible total followed by an announcement of the total and how much short or long it is of the target amount. In short, it is TV for people with Alzheimer's.

The shows are presented by the kind of people whom, in the past would have made half a living writing shallow articles for Womens' Realm and the Readers Digest Monthly. On daytime TV they are the 'experts'. The valuers are mainly antiques dealers who have watched too many episodes of Lovejoy, and many consider themselves eccentric. Now we all know that the worst thing in the world is someone who considers themself eccentric, wacky or in any way a 'personality'. They are, without fail, the shallowest and most annoying people you could ever meet. Why do they end up on telly? Is there not a person somewhere in TV land who has the nouse and the balls to just say no to these people? It seems not. It seems they roll out the red carpet and give them money.

It's like handing out guns to terrorists.

The house shows are just as bad. In fact they are pernicious and evil as well as being tedious. The nation is in the grip of a neverending obsession with house prices, which in part is fuelled by the obsession pumping out of the corner of the living room all day every day,
In the past people who bought a house, bought the house and then proceeded to remake it in their own image. It was a long term project. These days there seems to be some idea that people want to buy a house straight out of a magazine (or a TV show). The TV shows fuel this expectation. In effect the cost of upgrading a house in your own image, rather than being spread over several decades, is put onto the initial buying price of the property. In the past people bought a house to live in. Nowadays people don't talk about houses and homes, but 'The Property Ladder'. Making money from property is apparently the main objective of purchasing a house. I know people who literally sit at home with a calculator working out how much they have made each day from the rise in the value of their house.

The thing that the house shows don't do is actually explain that house prices can (and will) go up as well as down and that there is no inevitability in an inexorable rise in 'prices' (when these people say prices, what they actually mean is values, but the underlying concepts of economics are generally beyond these preening buffoons). When the hammer falls on the property bubble we will look back on these endless shows as quaint reminders of the time when we all thought the party would never end - a bit like those charming home movies of people barrelling around in open top cars and throwing beach balls to each other during the inter-war years.

So what will I do with my time when I am incapacitated? Probably listen to the World Service and do jigsaws.

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